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Wednesday, February 19, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gonzaga University to host anti-porn conference on Saturday

UPDATED: Fri., Feb. 22, 2019

A conference at Gonzaga University on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019, will feature some big names in anti-porn activism and the science of “sex addiction.” This ad for the conference appeared in The Spokesman-Review on Feb. 17, 2019. (The Spokesman-Review)
A conference at Gonzaga University on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019, will feature some big names in anti-porn activism and the science of “sex addiction.” This ad for the conference appeared in The Spokesman-Review on Feb. 17, 2019. (The Spokesman-Review)

A conference Saturday at Gonzaga University will feature some big names in anti-porn activism and the science of “sex addiction.”

Ads for the event, organized by Gonzaga and the Catholic Medical Association, call pornography “the new drug” and “the fuel that feeds human trafficking.”

Dr. Alfonso Oliva, a reconstructive surgeon practicing in Spokane, said he decided to organize the conference after reviewing research on the deleterious effects of porn use.

Such material, he said, ruins marriages, objectifies women and conditions young people to seek out increasingly novel, increasingly violent sexual experiences.

“I am now convinced that pornography is a public health crisis,” said Oliva, who sits on the board of the Catholic Medical Association.

Speakers at the conference will include a feminist sociology professor, a prominent psychologist and sex therapist, and a former federal prosecutor who leads an anti-porn group in Washington, D.C.

The lineup also includes five mental health professionals from Spokane and Coeur d’Alene, the founder of Spokane’s Jonah Project, a Mormon neurosurgeon and the leader of a Salt Lake City-based group that opposes pornography.

Oliva said the presenters won’t approach the subject from a moral or religious point of view.

“We wanted it to be a nonreligious discussion,” he said. “We didn’t want the research to be discounted simply because it’s being presented at a Catholic university.”

One of the presenters is Gail Dines, a professor emerita of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College in Boston, and an activist who wrote the book “Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality.” In a phone call, she described porn as the primary driver of sex trafficking.

“Porn is a major driver of demand to trafficked women because what happens is you socialize boys and men into wanting hardcore sex – the sort of sex that a lot of women, their girlfriends, their wives will not do,” Dines said. “So they have to go to women who can’t say no. And the only group of women who really can’t say no are trafficked women, because they’ll be murdered or whatever by their pimp.”

Several of the presenters’ views have proved to be controversial among researchers who study porn use and other sexual behaviors.

Stefanie Carnes, who leads the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals in Phoenix, has been at odds with some researchers who argue people can’t become addicted to sex or porn the same way they might get hooked on drugs, alcohol or gambling.

Carnes is far from alone in her view of addiction, though other researchers argue that too much sex or porn use should be classified as an impulse-control disorder – a distinction that could significantly change how the condition is treated.

“Addiction is saying this is a biological cycle. Compulsion is saying this is an emotional cycle,” said Cameron Staley, a clinical psychologist at Idaho State University in Pocatello.

In 2010 and 2012, the American Psychiatric Association rejected efforts to add “sex addiction” and “hypersexual disorder” to the fifth edition of its “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” or DSM, a reference book used by psychiatrists in the United States and Britain.

Last year, the World Health Organization added “compulsive sexual behavior disorder” to the “International Classification of Diseases,” another industry guidebook, but it refrained from endorsing the addiction model, citing a lack of definitive evidence.

Carnes, meanwhile, said she’s confident the scientific community will come to recognize the addictive nature of porn and sex. Like gambling, which the DSM recognizes as addictive, sex is a behavior, she noted.

“I would say that many researchers believe that in the next few years we’ll have some sort of diagnosis in the DSM,” she said.

Dr. Donald Hilton, a neurosurgeon who practices in San Antonio and belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, has faced criticism for a book he wrote in 2010, titled “He Restoreth My Soul: Understanding and Breaking the Chemical and Spiritual Chains of Pornography Addiction Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”

In a phone call, Hilton said he’s concerned that porn “has become the primary mode of sexual education for emerging adults,” and he drew a distinction between his religious views and peer-reviewed studies that suggest porn damages young minds.

“I think pornography in the past has largely been relegated to the realm of the moral,” he said. “And I think there’s enough evidence now and enough people convinced that there’s another angle, another perspective that we need to consider. And that is, could this be an addictive product? And if so, could it cause harm, deleterious effects, particularly in youth?”

David Ley, a clinical psychologist and frequent critic of the sex addiction model, wrote a book on porn use and another titled “The Myth of Sex Addiction.” In an email, he said religious bodies need to have important conversations about pornography.

“But, it’s not the porn that’s dangerous or harmful, it’s the fear that these people spread,” Ley said, criticizing the conference. “By convincing attendees that watching porn changes their brains, turns innocent men into rapists or makes them lose control of their sexual urges, presentations like this feed fear, guilt, shame and ignorance about sex in their audience. That shame is what creates greater difficulty with managing and understanding a person’s porn use.”

Nicole Prause, a neuroscientist and former professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who now runs a private sex research lab, was also skeptical of the conference, saying some of the presenters have drawn incorrect conclusions from scientific data.

“Anything they claim is science I would disregard, because they don’t have anyone who can represent it accurately,” Prause said.

Seating will begin at 7:30 a.m., and the conference will run from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday in Gonzaga’s Hemmingson Center. Tickets cost $25 and can be purchased on the university’s website. Student admission is free.

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